OCEAN CITY– Sparks flew during a fiery debate for the Maryland District 38 Senate seat at the Ocean City Senior Center on Wednesday, Oct. 8, as both candidates traded barbs on jobs, the economy, and their visions for the future of Maryland.
Chris Norris, president of the Ocean City AARP Chapter, moderated the two-hour forum with Democratic incumbent Jim Mathias facing challenger, Del. Mike McDermott (R-38B).
Mathias touted his experience during opening remarks.
“As we listen about our future, I ask you to remember where we have been economically,” he said. “When I came (to Ocean City) as mayor, we had about a $4 billion accessible base. When I left, a $12 billion accessible base.
During his tenure as mayor, Mathias said, residents had to endure a 40-minute car ride to the nearest hospital.
“We raised ourselves to that challenge and made it happen with Atlantic General Hospital,” he said. “We’ve been able to do some really challenging work with some very difficult economic times. When the bottom dropped out, we had the worst economic times since the Great Depression. And what have we been able to do? Continue to go forward.”
As a state representative, Mathias said he spearheaded two expansions of Route 113 and helped local schools become the best in the state. Bars and restaurants can now purchase alcohol from free-market suppliers and chemotherapy has become more affordable.
McDermott painted a decidedly grimmer picture of Mathias’ tenure. Eight years ago, he said, the state rated 25th in the U.S. in business friendliness and corporate and income taxes were much lower.
“Let’s talk about a time when Marylanders wanted to be Marylanders and people weren’t looking to leave,” he said. “People were looking at surpluses and expecting great things in the coming years.
“Fast forward eight years since Sen. Mathias and (Governor) Martin O’Malley got elected together. In those eight years we’ve gone from being number 25 in business friendliness all the way down to number 42,” McDermott continued. “You are now the 46th worst state in the union in which to pay income taxes. You’re the 49th worst economy.”
McDermott said Maryland was one of the worst states for retirees, adding that 8,000 jobs were lost last month.
“You can’t look at our economy and find your way back to where we are by doing the same practices that Senator Mathias and Martin O’Malley have subscribed to,” McDermott said. “The senator has voted for the last eight years for every O’Malley budget. That has increased spending in our state over 30 percent. We can’t afford to do that.”
Asked about jobs, Mathias spoke about “rural prosperity.”
“We have to make certain we’re competitive with Delaware and Virginia,” he said. “My opponent has voted a couple times against things that would enable that.”
Mathias cited offshore wind, which McDermott opposed, as a “job creator.” The senator also highlighted four new hotels and a performing arts center in Ocean City, as well as additional jobs coming in from Vista Pharmaceuticals and Court Plaza in Salisbury.
“When they pick up the phone and call Senator Mathias, certainly we get the job done,” he said. “That’s what we will continue to do.”
McDermott called offshore wind, “a boondoggle.”
“Guess who’s going to pay for those windmills when they’re up? You are,” he said. “Businesses are going to pay for the electricity that’s produced by a percentage, and you are going to pay a fee every month once those things start spinning – if they ever do.”
McDermott said he voted for billions of dollars in spending cuts.
“I haven’t found anything where (Mathias) cut spending,” he said. “This party that’s ruling Annapolis … have hamstrung us. The only jobs that they create are government jobs.
“If you want job creation get off the backs of our private sector,” McDermott continued. “Open up the doors of Maryland and say, ‘our regulatory burdens are going to be light, our taxes are going to be low and we are going to embrace you, because you are our future.’ We want jobs for our kids, not more rhetoric about, ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’ every four years by the same guys that don’t deliver.”
On new lottery regulations affecting Boardwalk games, Mathias said he opposed the measures.
“That’s my family business,” he said. “That’s how we wound up in Ocean City. We started as an arcade operator and that (issue) I understand clearly.”
Mathias said the National Federation of Independent Business, representing 320,000 businesses in the U.S., endorsed his campaign.
“I’ve been in business,” he said. “I didn’t get a public paycheck. I created my paycheck.
“My colleagues understand that I know respectfully what I’m talking about, and the romance of that Boardwalk and those children going in there and having a good time – absolutely we’re going to make sure that that continues here in Ocean City so they can make memories.”
Mathias urged voters to, “look at the person who was successfully in business for 30 years.”
“When you hear about farming I ask you to look tonight at who the Maryland Farm Bureau supports,” he said. “When you hear about firearms here tonight look at the candidate that the NRA supports.”
The Fraternal Order of Police, said Mathias, also endorsed his campaign.
“Whether it’s amusement arcade devices, whether it’s firearms, whether it’s our farming families, whether it’s business certainly you have proven experience that’s been able to do that,” he said.
McDermott accused Mathias of belittling law enforcement.
“Don’t demean the police officers,” he said. “I spent 34 years serving my community. I’m not ashamed of getting a paycheck for serving that community. When I was in the United States Army I wasn’t ashamed of getting a paycheck for my work and my service.”
Mathias questioned McDermott’s figures on the economy, saying the U.S. Chamber of Commerce rated Maryland first for entrepreneurship.
“We had a $2 billion structural deficit in this state the governors including Ehrlich continued to justify,” he said. “We reduced that in the worst economic times. That business experience – that ability to bring people together – certainly proves true leadership.”
McDermott said the state was “exporting our kids to states that are giving them jobs.”
“We’re taking our future knowledge … and sending it to other places like North Carolina or Delaware or Virginia or Ohio,” he said. “I don’t want to visit my grandchildren in North Carolina. I don’t want to visit them in Ohio. I want to visit my grandkids in Maryland because we bring jobs back to this state and people have opportunity.”
Norris asked the candidates how they would affect expansion of the Rt. 50 and Rt. 90 bridges.
Mathias said he would work with both parties to restore highway user revenues.
“Twice in the last eight years we’ve been able to bring monies to the district for the dualization of 113,” he said. “We continue to work to bring those monies home.”
McDermott was less optimistic.
“I don’t know that they’re going to be addressed any time soon,” he said. “My God, it’s taken them 50 years to work on 113.
“You want to take credit for (expansion) take credit for the last 50 years of not getting it done,” McDermott continued. “That daggone thing should have been done years ago, and you look at it and it’s still got seven and a half miles out there. That’s not an accomplishment – that’s an indictment.”
Asked about wind farms in Somerset County, Mathias said the project would bring $40-45 million in revenue.
“Let’s talk about impeding business,” he said. “Let’s talk about when a bona fide business comes to the Eastern Shore and does their work down in Somerset County. They’re moving along and it looks like they got the target in mind … and all the sudden the state comes by and says, ‘you can’t do this.’ That’s wrong. That is truly a death knell to that project.”
Mathias said he fought the moratorium on Somerset County wind farms.
“I was able to persuade Governor O’Malley to veto that bill to bring that opportunity,” he said. “The Somerset County planning and zoning and the Somerset County Commissioners will make the final decisions.
“You’ve asked me to grow business on the Eastern Shore – you’ve asked me to keep government out of your business – and I did exactly what you asked for,” Mathias continued.
McDermott said there was “a lot of wind” on the issue.
“According to Pioneer Green I think they’re looking at about seven full-time jobs total when that thing is up and running,” he said. “This is our big hope?”
McDermott urged Somerset County Planning and Zoning to bond the project.
“If you don’t bond this program and they go belly-up when these subsidies dry up and there’s no money left Somerset County is going to get stuck with having to take down a 5 or 600-foot structure that you cannot afford to do,” he said. “That’s a terrible conclusion to come to in this state.”
Asked about opportunities for senior citizens, Mathias said he has worked to protect pensions, fought fraud and brought telemedicine options to the Eastern Shore.
“I don’t want you leaving Maryland,” he said. “I go to work every day making sure that we do our very, very best protect your interest. My priority is your financial security, your health, a safe community and working hard to keep you here as a Marylander.”
McDermott said seniors were leaving the state in record numbers.
“The only way you get s tax break in Maryland is you gotta die,” he said. “We’ve got to do more for seniors in the state because we will all be seniors one day.”
The delegate accused the current administration of holding bank accounts hostage and called for tax cuts for those living on fixed incomes.
“Hope is a poor financial plan,” he said. “We have got to stop hoping that things get better. We have got to stop hoping that you don’t leave our state. Half of our citizens would leave our state tomorrow if you gave them the money to move. That’s not a recipe for prosperity.”
Mathias said his opponent was distorting the number of people and businesses leaving the state, citing a recent article in the Baltimore sun that contradicted McDermott.
“What we hope to leave here tonight with is verifiable facts,” he said. “You’re finding as this campaign goes on that a lot of what is being said here … turns out to not be true. What I ask you to do is hold your representative to the truth. Make sure you ask for the truth and the facts, not distortions,” Mathias said.
“Do you not see jobs leaving our state in droves?” said McDermott. “The problem with Annapolis is they simply don’t adopt the recommendations of their committees. We study everything up there. We studied the rain and decided it was a good idea to tax it.”
McDermott, his voice becoming callithumpian, said he was, “scared to death that they’re going to find a way to tax the sunshine.”
“I don’t believe for one minute that the senator truly understands the direction we need to go,” he said. “I want a senator that stands up and is a leader – not a follower. We are full of politicians in this state. You need leaders. You need people who will look out of the box. Your hope and your future and that of your grandchildren is dependent upon these elections. If you keep putting the same people up there who keep doing the same policies with the same results – that’s lunacy.”
“Tonight we’ve been hollered at,” Mathias said. “I thought we came here to discuss, not to be belittled – not to be demanded – not to be arrogant. That’s not how we do anything. That’s not how we do it in a family. It’s certainly not how we do it in a community, and clearly it’s not how you do it in government.”
Several members of the audience interrupted the senator to defend McDermott, shouting, “He’s being passionate” and “He’s telling the truth.”
Norris fought to restore order, while McDermott dug in.
“When somebody has liberal tendencies and is boxed in and can’t answer the question and can’t dig out of the hole because they keep digging and digging and digging that they resort to personal attacks, calling somebody arrogant, talking about somebody hollering, not even recognizing true, passionate debate,” McDermott said. “Passionate men – passionate women – they understand their core values and those of their constituents, and they rise up and debate, sometimes vehemently for their passionate views. That’s nothing to scorn. That’s nothing to walk away from. It there was one thing we needed in government right now it is passionate people who understand the road that we’re on.”
McDermott then accused Democrats of using the so-called “flush tax” to steal money.
“They didn’t need more money for the bay,” he said. “They needed you to put money into an account so they could steal it for other sources. That’s the budget trick every year.
“How would you like it if somebody came and just took money out of your trust fund?” McDermott continued. “That’s our money that we’re supposed to spend on the bay. We rob Peter to pay Paul and then we have the nerve to come back to you and say, ‘you need to give us more money, because we’re coming up short.’”
On state parity, McDermott said Maryland “was headed in the wrong direction.”
Citing nonprofit political action committee Progressive Maryland, McDermott said Mathias had a 73 percent rating as a liberal voter.
“That’s significant considering he’s been there for eight years,” he said. “I have, after four years, a lifetime rating of 11 percent. I’m trying to figure out where I screwed up.”
“I’m asking you tonight simply to vote for the person,” Mathias said. “This is not about the ‘R’ or the ‘D’ or the ‘I.’ This is about you. This is about our community. You say to yourself, ‘who would I like to have represent me in Annapolis 365 days a year for the next four years?’”